Right from the very beginning my journey with breastfeeding looked promising.
I was lucky enough to be leaking a teaspoon of colostrum in a day by 30 weeks which i was told was quite impressive. Once I hit the 36 week mark i got the all clear to start hand expressing. I was getting almost 5ml of colostrum in one sitting from each breast by the time I had reached my due date. That daily expressing made for a huge storage supply of the very handy liquid gold by the time little Danny was born. Our freezer draw was stacked full of vials ready to go for the hospital trip but I was extremely doubtful I’d need to use any of it.
I had an extremely positive outlook towards breastfeeding throughout my entire pregnancy. I really wanted to give it a good go and I honestly believed it would come quite natural to me. I had a great example in my Mum who told me she had really enjoyed breastfeeding with all three of her children and that she didn’t experience much (if any) pain at all. She said to me that it had helped her to develop a really close bond with us and I desperately wanted that for me and my baby when he arrived.
I was also aware of the pressure put on all pregnant women by our health system here in New Zealand to breastfeed their babies. Through asking other people I know about their experience, I’ve found this pressure is quite unwelcome amongst the mum community. And for good reason. Its so intense, all of the talks at every midwife appointment “Are you planning on breastfeeding your baby?” the Plunket nurses who look at you with scorn if you say you’re unsure about how you will feed your baby and say ” well BREAST is BEST”. It’s the thousands of pamphlets they hand you, the videos they show you at antenatal classes, the lactation consultants, the check ups, honestly it is never ending and there were times I wished they’d all just shut up and let me be.
As a nurse myself I know this pressure isn’t without good cause… After all, the antibodies and nutrients in breast milk is unrivaled by any substitute out there for your young ones. It’s tailor made to your baby’s needs and changes on a day to day basis to meet those developing needs. Though when a substitute is chosen (or needed) such as formula, mothers can rest assured that everything they need can also be provided by that formula and it is in no way less of a choice than breast milk.
With all this in mind my choice was to try my hand in breastfeeding and see how it went. But like I said at the beginning, my journey looked promising. Danny was born at the hospital after 12 hours of complicated active labour and after skin to skin with both his father and myself, I was encouraged to try to feed him.
I was completely surprised at how hard it was.
My nipples refused to cooperate and so did Danny. I’d never had a problem with my nipples being flat before, but for some reason they just would not erect (yes I’m 22 years old and still giggle as I type the word erect into my laptop) I was so desperate for it to work straight away that I became easily frustrated and that just made it worse. I could easily hand express out the colostrum into Danny’s partially open mouth, but getting him to latch on was near impossible.
During my 3 days in the hospital post-birth I successfully latched and fed Danny only a handful of times for less than 5 minutes. The rest of the time I’d express into a tiny cup and slowly pour it into his mouth to keep him happy and fed. On the last day in hospital it seemed like we had finally figured it out, the both of us. You see it is not just a learning curve for a Mother, but this tiny human has to figure out how to do it too! Some babies can naturally know what to do from the start, but with Danny he had to learn how to open his mouth wide enough to get the entire nipple in, in order to feed. That took time. I was ready to go home and I felt confident that me and Danny had found our feeding rhythm. We went home feeling great!
But once we got home it was a different story. It was as if he had forgotten again how to latch properly and every feed was a struggle of fussing and crying from my baby. at to matter matters worse still… we left the colostrum at the hospital. With 55kms now between us and that supply it was no longer an option to feed him a vial of colostrum if he refused the breast.
On the 4th day the milk came flowing like a tidal wave into my breasts. I was in so much pain, with big lumps of what felt like hard muscle all over my chest. I soaked through a breast pad in the space of an hour and even turning my body was agony. I was desperate to feed Danny and relieve some of the pain. I’d lower him down into the cradle hold and he’d scream as if I was hurting him. I had no idea what was wrong with my baby, or how to stop him from crying. As this went on every time I went to feed him, It meant he was so upset there was no way he’d latch onto me.
I started to really feel guilty. “I’m a terrible mother already” I’d think to myself as I looked at my hungry baby. I wanted so desperately for it to work but nothing I was trying was helping. I used different holds, piles of pillows, nipple shields, hand expressing, everything I could think of and nothing would work. We would get the occasional feed for 5 minutes before he popped off and couldn’t get back on again. I’m so thankful I had the support of my family and also a friend who is a mum that would talk to me every day, check in on me and offer me support through all of my feelings and questions.
After a few days of torment, I figured out that if I used my electric breast pump to relieve about 30 mls of milk from each breast, my nipple was far more flexible and Danny was able to latch on. We also found that if I used a pacifier just before a feed, it would trigger Danny’s sucking reflex and he’d go on straight away if I was quick enough to replace it with the boob. It was through a lot of trial and error that we found these things helpful and that I was able to continue breastfeeding Danny.
From about 2 weeks, we really did find our rhythm. I was so in love with feeding Danny. I didn’t experience nipple pain, the engorgement in my breasts went down as my body figured out how much milk Danny really needed. I started to not need the pump to relieve the over supply of milk. But I had so much there it seemed almost sacrilegious to get rid of it. So during one night time when Danny woke up, we tried feeding him expressed the milk through the bottle: and viola! He took to it the first time with no complaints. I was relieved as I could go back to sleep while Matt had his first experience of the magic of feeding.
From that moment on Danny had been both breast AND bottle feed. I set up a pumping schedule so that three times a day I’d pump and fill up two whole bottles: one for a night feed and one for the freezer. This was incredibly hard work for me on top of breastfeeding. Though I loved the freedom of getting a little extra sleep, I was even more exhausted as all of the goodness I needed for my own body was solely going into the supply of milk I was keeping up for Danny. Anyone who has or is exclusively pumping knows how tiring it is. I wanted to cry sometimes as I just felt like a cow who was being milked as the buzz of the electric pump emphasized my humiliation.
On top of that, I felt shame for giving Danny the bottle. I wondered what people would think of me if we were out in town and i pulled out a bottle for my crying baby. Looking back I know how silly this is, but I believe its a direct result from all the pressure put on Mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies in our society. That is what was making me feel so much shame, it wasn’t coming from within, it was external: the midwives, the Plunket nurses, the judgmental Mums, it’s so inescapable!
I feel so deeply for Mothers out there who had the same struggles as me with breastfeeding and decided to formula feed their babies. It’s no less of a choice. In fact I WISH I had chosen to give Danny formula in those days he refused to feed. He was so hungry, and my pride stopped me from trying a formula option.
I’m here to say it isn’t wrong. It shouldn’t be shameful. There is no such thing as “BREAST is BEST”. There are pros to breastfeeding I won’t lie, but if the cons outweigh those pros, then your choice should be “FED is BEST”.
I still have days with Danny when it seems like he is impossible to feed. There are still times when he will be so fussy that defrosting a bag of milk and giving him a bottle is just a better option than forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to.
Then there are times when we are feeding and he is on my breast and looking up at me with big wide eyes, he’ll stop and smile at me making a cooing noise and I feel like all the hard times have been worth it for that one moment.
We are 101 days into our breastfeeding journey and I am proud of myself and of Danny for finding our own way of successfully feeding.
however many days you are into your own journey with feeding or if your pregnant now and soon you are going to begin one. Whether it be by boob, bottle, breast milk, or formula I really encourage you to be proud of your choice. Because as mothers, we make the best choices for our babies and we know better than anyone else what is right for them. I encourage you to persevere through your struggles, but also knowing when to say enough is enough. I want you to never feel shame for your decisions as a mum, especially when it comes to feeding your hungry baby. There will be ups and down I can guarantee you only that! But a full baby is a happy baby and that is what counts.
Good luck, the journey will never end.